N. A. Berdyaev:The End of Europe
The visionary dream about world unity and world dominion -- is an age-old dream of mankind. The Roman Empire was the greatest attempt at such unity and such dominion. And every universalism is bound up even at present with Rome, as a concept spiritual, and not geographic. The present-day world war, which is spreading all over and threatens to engulf all lands and peoples, would seem deeply contrary to this old dream about world unity, about a single world governance. Such a terrible war, it would seem, is destroying the unity of mankind. But this is so only for the superficial glance. From a perspective at greater depth the world war to the ultimate degree has brought into sharp focus the question concerning world order upon the earthly globe, about the expanse of culture upon all the surface of the earth. The present historical period has similarity to the era of the great transmigration of peoples. There is the feeling, that mankind is entering upon a new historical and cosmic even period, amidst some sort of great inevitability, completely unforeseen by any of the scientific prognoses, meanwhile toppling down all the doctrines and teachings. And it demonstrates first of all, that the ancient, the irrational and indeed primitive instincts are stronger than all the modern social interests and humanitarian feelings. These instincts, rooted within the obscure wellsprings of life, win out over the feeling of bourgeois self-preservation. That, which seemed to the consciousness of the second half of the XIX Century to be the solely essential things within the life of mankind, have proven all to be merely at the surface level of life. The world war tears away this surface skin of the civilisation of the XIX and XX Centuries and reveals the deeper layers of human life, it sets loose the chaotically irrational within human nature, covered over only outwardly, but nowise changed within modern man. The social question, the struggle of classes, the humanitarian-cosmopolitanist socialism etc, etc, all that which not so long ago seemed still singularly important, and in which they saw the only possible future, now fades into the background, gives way to deeper interests and instincts. Into the foreground move questions of nation and ethnos, the struggle for dominance of various imperialisms, all that, which had seemed overcome and left behind by cosmopolitanism, by pacifism, by the humanitarian and socialistic teachings. The eternal bourgeois and socialistic world has proven phantasmic, a mere abstraction. Within the fires of this terrible war have been burnt up all the doctrinalisings and there has been melted away all the fetters, latched upon life by the teachings and theories. The instincts of nation and ethnos in the XX Century have proven to be mightier than instincts social and of class. The irrational has proven stronger than the rational within the most bourgeois and well-organised of cultures. The struggle of ethnos, the struggle of national dignities, the struggle of great empires for might and dominion is essentially supra-national. Here the dark will for the expansion of the supra-personal life wins out over all personal interests and plans, it capsizes all the individual perspectives on life. How many individually unrewarded go the sacrifices that are demanded by imperialistic politics or the struggle for national worth. And in our epoch there is the displacing of instincts by still stronger instincts, upon which stand the imperialistic and national struggle. The instincts particular to life, of the egoistic family, the philistine, are won out over by interests of national life, of historical and world life, by instincts of the glory of peoples and states.
The national consciousness and nationalism -- are phenomena of the XIX Century. After the Napoleonic wars, inspired by the idea of a world empire, there began the wars of national liberation. And national self-awareness grew. National states crystalised into shape. Lesser peoples even wanted to assert their national visage, and to possess an independent life. The national movements of the XIX Century are profoundly contrary to the universal spirit of the Middle Ages, which was under the sway of ideas of world theocracy and world empire and which did not know nationalism. The intense national energies within the XIX and XX Centuries act alongside energies that were cosmopolitan, socialistic, humanitarian-pacifist. The XIX Century -- was the most cosmopolitan and yet the most nationalistic of centuries. The bourgeois European life was also both very cosmopolitan and very nationalistic. But in it the spirit of universality would be difficult to find. The nationalisation of human life involved also its individualisation. And the striving towards individualisation always involves new appearances. The national states, the national individualities are fully definable only for the XIX Century. And quite parallel to the growth of the national manifold was a lessening of the remoteness of states and nations, it weakened the provincial isolation. It might be said, that mankind moves towards unity through a national individualisation. Parallel to the individualisation in national existence is an universalisation, a developement in breadth. And it can likewise be said, that mankind at present moves towards oneness and unification through a worldwide discord of war, through prolonged misfortune, into the period we are now entering. History -- is paradoxical and antinomic, and its processes -- are twofold. Nothing within history is realised alongside a straight line, by peaceful growth, without detours and without sacrifices, without evil, accompanying the good, without a shadowing of the light. Races and peoples are locked in a bloody struggle. Within the war there is an outlet for the particularistic and isolated existence of peoples.
The most compelling feeling, evoked by the world war, might be expressed thus: this is the end of Europe, as a monopoly on culture, as a closed-in province of the earthly sphere, with its pretensions to be universal. The world war pulls into the cycle of world life all the races, all the parts of the earthly orb. It brings East and West into so close a contact, as never yet known within history. The world war poses the question about an emergence onto world expanses, about the extension of culture across all the surface of the earthly globe. It sharpens to the final extreme all the questions, connected with imperialistic and colonial politics, connected with the relations of the European states to other parts of the world, to Asia and Africa. One such aspect already is this, that the present-day war with a fateful inevitability posits the question about the existence of Turkey, about the dividing up of its holdings, which leads us beyond the borders of European horizons. The semi-phantasmic existence of Turkey, which for a long time was sustained by European diplomacy, kept Europe within its closed-in condition, forestalling the too acute and catastrophic setting of questions, connected with movement towards the East. In Turkey all was tied up in a knot, the undoing upon which depends the character of the existence of Europe, since the end of Turkey represents the emergence of culture eastwards, beyond the bounds of Europe. And besides the question concerning Turkey the war posits still many other questions, connected with the world-historical theme: East and West. And the world war demands resolution of all the questions.
The great powers conduct world politics, and make pretense of spreading their civilising influence beyond the borders of Europe, to all parts of the world and to all peoples, upon over all the surface of the earth. This -- is imperialistic politics, which always contains within it universalistic pretensions and which ought to be distinguished from nationalistic politics. Nationalism is particularism; imperialism is universalism. On the strength of some almost biological law, a law of biological sociology, the great. or in the terminology of N. B. Struve, the greatest powers strive towards a swallowing up of all the weak and the small, towards a worldwide dominion, they want on their own terms to civilise all the surface of the earthly sphere.
The talented and original English imperialist Cramb sees the significance of English imperialism in this, that it "should inspire all peoples, living within the bounds of the British empire, with the English world-outlook".1 In this he sees the striving of the race for immortality. Imperialism with its colonial politics is a modern, a bourgeois method of spreading of the universalisation of culture, of spreading civilisation beyond the bounds of Europe, beyond the seas and oceans. Modern imperialism -- is a phenomenon purely European, but it bears with it an energy, the ultimate revealing of which spells the end of Europe. In the dialectics of imperialism is a self-negation. The endless expansion and might of the British empire spells the end of England, as a national state, as the individually particularistic existence of a people. For the British empire, as in every empire, within its own bounds is the world, the earthly orb. In modern imperialism, which I term "bourgeois" in distinction to the "sacred" imperialism of former ages,2 there is the same striving for world dominion, as was also in the Roman empire, and which is impossible to investigate, as mere national existence. This -- is the tantalising torment of the great powers, unquenchable in their thirst. Only small peoples and states are content with a purely national existence, making no pretense to be all the whole world. But how distinct are the methods of modern bourgeois imperialism from the methods of the old sacral imperialism. Both the ideology and the practice are altogether different. Now everything possesses, foremost, an economic undertone. Modern imperialists no longer speak about a world theocracy, nor about a sacred world empire. Colonial politics, the struggle for dominion on the sea, the struggle for markets -- this is what concerns modern imperialism, here are its methods and means of world might. Imperialistic politics indeed does lead out beyond the bounds of the closed-in existence of Europe and indeed does serve towards the universalisation of culture. But this is accomplished by crooked and negative paths. In a straight-forward intent of imperialism to spread culture it is impossible to believe. We know only too well, how the European great powers peddle their culture over all the earthly sphere, how rough and ugly their contacts are towards races of other parts of the world, their civilising of old cultures and savages. The cultural role of the English in India, an ancient land of great religious revealings of wisdom, which even now could help the peoples of Europe deepen their religious consciousness, is all too well known, for it to be possible to sustain the lie of the cultural ideology of imperialism. The world outlook of modern Englishmen is more superficial, than the world outlook of Indians, and they can convey to India but an outward civilisation. The England of the XIX Century would nowise be capable to beget a Ramakrishna, who was born in India. In the contacts of modern European civilisation with the ancient races and ancient cultures there is always something of the sacrilegious. And the conceited European, bourgeois and scientific, civilising consciousness -- is a phenomenon so pitiful and trite, that it spiritually can be looked at only as a symptom of the ensuing end of Europe -- the monopolist of world culture. It is the nightfall of Europe -- here is a feeling, impossible to be rid of. Barbarisation in part threatens Europe. Yet all the same it is impossible to deny the significance of imperialism, as an emergence beyond the borders of Europe and purely of the European civilisation, it is impossible to deny its external, material, geographic mission. All the surface of the earthly orb has inevitably to be civilised, all the races have to be drawn into the coursings of world history. This worldwide task stands now more acutely before mankind, than the tasks of the inward life of the crystalised European states and cultures.